Long before Brangelina, there was another first couple of Hollywood who brought adoption to the forefront and placed it in the minds and hearts of everyone in America. To Cheryl Rogers-Barnett, they were just Mom and Dad, but to to the rest of the world they were the King of the Cowboys and Queen of the West – Roy Rogers and Dale Evans.
Dale Evans and Roy Rogers
Roy Rogers and Dale Evans each had biological children and adopted children domestically (in the United States). They also adopted internationally long before many other people did. The adopted from foster care. And two of their children are Hope Babies.
Cheryl was the first Rogers child adopted through Hope Cottage.
Roy and his wife Arline had been married several years and endured two or three miscarriages. Doctors told them to continue trying to have a biological child might endanger Arline’s health, so they decided to adopt. In 1940, Roy was in Dallas promoting his latest film when a friend of his told him he needed to come to Hope Cottage and see the “cutest babies he would ever see.” In her book Cowboy Princess, Cheryl shares the story of how she and Roy met:
“Dad loved to tell the story of how he wiggled his fingers, made faces and funny noises to each baby. All the babies cried except one. I was the one who just reached up, grabbed his finger and cooed. According to Dad, right then, I stole his heart. He called mommy back in California and said I found our baby! …by the time all the shots and physical checkups and paperwork had been cleared away, I was six months old. And that’s when I finally arrived in California as the daughter of Roy and Arline Rogers.”
Three years later, Roy and Arline had a biological daughter, Linda Lou, followed by Roy, Jr. (aka Dusty) in November 1946. On the day Arline and Dusty were supposed to come home from the hospital, Arline developed a blood clot and died five days later. The family was devastated.
In 1944 Roy Rogers made his first movie Cowboy and the Senorita with the leading lady who would later become his wife, Miss Dale Evans. A working relationship in the movies led to a deep abiding love and respect and in 1947 Miss Dale Evans became Mrs. Roy Rogers.
In 1950 Roy and Dale’s biological child, Robin Elizabeth Rogers was born with Down syndrome. All the medical professionals urged Roy and Dale to institutionalize Robin, but they would have no part of it. Robin was not kept hidden from public, as most Downs babies were at that time. Roy and Dale insisted that every family publicity photo include Robin, even though the studio was convinced that fans would be alienated by seeing pictures of Robin. The two short years that Robin lived were sweet times for the Rogers family. Everyone rallied around their little angel. At the age of two, Robin contracted the mumps which turned into brain fever and died. As a way of dealing with her grief, Dale penned Angel Unaware and every penny earned from the sale of the book went to the National Association for Retarded Children, now known as The Arc.
Angel Unware also did something else – it helped people realize that children with Down syndrome were children. People stopped hiding their Downs babies away. They began showing up at rodeos where Roy and Dale performed. People realized these children could have normal lives.
The Rogers were not finished with adoption – not by a long shot. They went on to adopt three more children – John David (Sandy), Mary Doe (Dodie – also a Hope Baby) and Debbie. Sister Mimi was a British citizen and couldn’t be legally adopted, but she was a member of the Rogers family in everything but name.
A few months before Robin died, Dale was visiting her parents near Dallas and returned to Hope Cottage to get information about Cheryl’s birth mother. No visit to Hope Cottage was complete without a visit to the nursery and there she meet four week old Dodie. Dale fell in love with her on the spot, however, as Dodie was a of Choctaw heritage, Hope Cottage staff was working to find a Native American family to adopt her. Cheryl visited family friends in Dallas a few months later and Dale arranged for Cheryl to visit Hope Cottage to see if Dodie was still there. She was. Cheryl instantly fell in love with Dodie too. After Robin’s death, Dale could not stop thinking about Dodie and called Hope Cottage to see if Dodie was still living at Hope Cottage. Normally babies only stayed a few months, but a Native American family had not been found yet to adopt Dodie. As Cheryl wrote “Mom begged them to let her have the baby. She told them how much she needed Dodie and besides, Dad was part Choctaw.” Dodie joined the Rogers family, however, when Roy and Dale arrived home, Dodie was not the only new family member in tow.
Roy and Dale sponsored a safety program for school children around the nation. En route to Hope Cottage from New York (where they had been performing), they went stopped in Kentucky to give a national safety award to a school. Wherever they performed, the Rogers would always include a visit or performance at a local children’s hospital and their stop in Frankfurt, KY was no different. At the hospital for crippled children, they met Sandy, age four.
Sandy was beaten and abandoned at the age of six weeks in a motor court. He was left alone in the room for three or four days before anyone cleaned the room and found him. His abandonment left him with malnutrition and rickets and one leg was shorter than the other. Upon learning that Sandy was available for adoption, Roy and Dale completed the paperwork and when they stepped off the plane in Los Angeles, they had not one new family member, but two!
Sister Mimi (from Scotland) joined the family in 1954 and sister Debbie (from Korea) joined the family in 1956, arriving on Cheryl’s 16th birthday. In addition to their seven children, the Rogers’ sponsored some 40 children who lived in orphanages around the world through World Vision.
Throughout their lives Roy and Dale were adoption advocates and ambassadors. It is true that many other celebrities adopted children, but no one can say the Rogers family was not the “poster family” for adoption. Their love of children and their “United Nations” family showed the world what families could be.
Run, don’t walk, to Cheryl’s website to order your very own copy of Cowboy Princess to read the entire story!
Cheryl closes Cowboy Princess with these words:
Would I change anything if I could? I don’t think so. It has been – and thank heaven still is – a great ride. I was given the most wonderful parents anyone could hope for – millions of other kids even prayed to be part of our family. Dad always made sure that I knew that he specifically chose me. And so, like Dad, I’ve always figured that I am exactly where I’m supposed to be. That day he appeared at Hope Cottage couldn’t have been just a magnificent accident – it was meant to be. I am just the extremely lucky little baby girl who reached up and grabbed his finger.”
Cowboy Princess Cheryl Rogers-Barnett and her father, Roy Rogers
P.S. Hope Cottage was thrilled to have the opportunity to hear and meet Cheryl this past Friday at the Allen Public Library.
Hope Cottage is the oldest nonprofit, non sectarian adoption agency in Dallas. Since 1918 Hope Cottage has been building and nurturing strong families through counseling, education and adoption services.
If you have questions about adoption, please call Hope Cottage at 214.526.8721.
If you are a woman facing an unplanned pregnancy and would like to talk to someone about adoption, please call Hope Cottage at 1.800.944.4464 or 214.404.4546.